And he gave the Los Angeles Angels a preview of what could be waiting for them in October, too.
Matsuzaka returned from a three-month stint on the DL with six shutout innings on Tuesday night to lead the Red Sox to a 4-1 victory over the Angels, their likely first-round playoff opponent.
"We're in the middle of a playoff race, and we don't have a lot of leeway," said Matsuzaka, who hadn't pitched for Boston since June 19 and hadn't won since June 2. "I just want to do my best to contribute."
David Ortiz hit his record-breaking 270th homer as a designated hitter and also added an RBI single after Boston broke a scoreless tie in the sixth thanks to a throwing error by John Lackey (10-8). The Red Sox have won six straight since returning to Fenway Park after Labor Day.
An 18-game winner last year, Matsuzaka (2-5) did not allow a hit through four innings and got a standing ovation when he was relieved after one batter in the seventh. In all, Matsuzaka gave up three hits and three walks while striking out five for his first win at Fenway in almost a year.
"I've been a burden on my teammates. I feel that I owe them," he said. "There's not much left in the season. In the limited opportunity I do have, I want to show my appreciation to my teammates and the fans."
Lackey gave up three runs -- two earned -- on eight hits and three walks, striking out six and leaving after J.D. Drew tripled and scored on Jason Bay's single to make it 3-0 in the eighth. Ortiz hit Jose Arredondo's second pitch to straightaway center to surpass Frank Thomas atop the all-time DH home run list.
The Angels won eight of their previous 11 and entered the night with a six-game lead over Texas in the AL West; Boston led the Rangers by 4½ in the wild-card race. If the standings hold, the Red Sox and Angels would meet in the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
That hasn't worked out too well for the Angels, who have lost 12 of their last 13 playoff games against Boston dating to 1986 and are 0-4 all-time in postseason series against the Red Sox.
"People see it as the Boston Red Sox and a potential playoff matchup, but the playoffs are totally different," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "Some guys show up and some guys don't."
Matsuzaka was the MVP of the World Baseball Classic for the second time this spring, but he never found his form when the season started. He failed to complete six innings in any of his eight starts and had an 8.23 ERA when he was placed on the disabled list with right shoulder problems on June 21.
"The way he pitched shocked all of us," Hunter said. "Really good for the first time since June 19th."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona penciled Matsuzaka in for another start on Sunday.
"Long-term, it was very important" that Matsuzaka regain his form, Francona said. "Hopefully, it will give us a shot in the arm in the short term also."
Matsuzaka left with a 2-0 lead and received a standing ovation when he was pulled after walking Kendry Morales to lead off the seventh, with Francona joining in as he walked to the mound. Matsuzaka waved his cap to the crowd as he approached the dugout.
"In the last start, I left amid some boos," he said. "So to be able to experience that I am very grateful for the fans response today.'
Lackey matched Matsuzaka by allowing just three hits through five, but Alex Gonzalez singled to lead off the sixth, and Jacoby Ellsbury dropped a bunt along the first-base line for a single. Dustin Pedroia tried to sacrifice the runners along, but Lackey fielded the ball and threw a one-hopper to third that got past third baseman Chone Figgins; Gonzalez scored and the runners moved up to second and third.
Bay walked one out later to load the bases before Ortiz hit a sinking liner to left that Juan Rivera couldn't get to. Ellsbury scored to make it 2-0 as the runners, holding to make sure it wasn't caught, only advanced one base apiece.
- Victor Martinez (personal reasons) and Kevin Youkilis (back spasms) were given the night off.
- To make room for Matsuzaka, INF Chris Woodward was sent outright to Triple-A Pawtucket.
- Thomas had 269 homers as a DH but 521 overall. Ortiz has 313 career homers, with just 43 as a position player.
- Lackey was 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA in his previous three starts, throwing at least eight innings each time.